Happy Easter! If you've been reading my posts this week, you've probably detected a theme. All week, I've been trying to identify with Jesus' week, and see if it has any application to what I'm going through. So far, my main conclusion has seemed to be that I have better friends than Jesus did. But his real friends came through for him in the end, as you are for me.
Sorry for the length of Friday's post. Don't expect today's to be any shorter. Even only focusing on two aspects of Jesus' crucifixion on Friday, (along with explaining the whole of Christian doctrine! What was I thinking?) the internet still ran out of space. The same is true for the Resurrection, of course, and I'm going to limit my focus today as well. I'm not going to attempt to prove the resurrection of Christ in this post. I try to do that in my Bible Blog posts on the Resurrection. You can see my post on Mark's version here, Matthew's version here, and Luke's version here. My post on Matthew includes the plot by the religious leaders to spread the lie that Jesus' disciples had stolen his body. My post on Luke includes Jesus' encounter with two disciples on the road to Emmaus after he rose.
I regret not having commented on John's account yet. I wish I had, because his account is the most personal. His whole book is a more personal account of his time with Jesus than the others. He was Jesus' best friend, and they were also probably related. More on that later.
I need to start where we left off, at the point of Jesus' death. That's when his friends Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea went to Pilate to request Jesus' body. They were members of the Jewish ruling council, the same body that had convicted Jesus and sent him to Pilate earlier that same day. But these two men were also secret disciples of Jesus, and they had not consented to the council's decision.
The Bible says they were wealthy men, and they wanted to do something for Jesus that his family and disciples could not do. Joseph had a new, unused family tomb that had been cut out of rock. He not only gave it to Jesus, but went to Pilate to ask for his body and took charge of his burial. Nicodemus provided expensive ointments and spices to anoint Jesus' body.
It’s hard to describe how generous this was on Joseph’s part. Family tombs were for family members, and Joseph was not related to Jesus, as far as we know. And by placing a crucified body there, he was defiling the grave. No member of his family could ever be buried there again. That's how much he loved Jesus.
But because of this, Jesus' burial was much more secure than a typical burial would be. If you'd like a description of how secure the tomb was, I recommend my post on the burial of Jesus in Matthew here. Suffice it to say that it was impossible for Jesus' disciples to break into the tomb. This gave the accounts of Jesus' resurrection much more validity than they would have had otherwise.
Nobody knows what was going on with Jesus on Saturday. Some say he descended into hell in order to defeat it when he rose. The Bible doesn't say that anywhere, so I don't subscribe to that theory. I think he was just dead for a whole day and a half, from Friday afternoon to early Sunday morning.
But when he rose, I believe that the first thing he did was leave a sign for his mother and his best friend.
Back in the 1980's, my wife and I were sitting in our Sunday School class on an Easter Sunday morning. The lesson was on John chapter 20, which, of course, is the one account of the Resurrection I haven't written a commentary on yet. But I've read it, heard it, and thought about it a lot. I believe that God showed me something about this passage that morning, and I'm more convinced of that now, all these years later. I've never heard this theory from anyone else. I hope it adds meaning to your Resurrection Sunday.
During the lesson, I noticed something in John's narrative. Here's what John 20:3-8 says:
3 So Peter and the other disciple started for the tomb. 4 Both were running, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent over and looked in at the strips of linen lying there but did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came along behind him and went straight into the tomb. He saw the strips of linen lying there, 7 as well as the cloth that had been wrapped around Jesus’ head. The cloth was folded up by itself, separate from the linen. 8 Finally the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went inside. He saw and believed.
The other disciple was John himself, of course. It struck me how specifically John described how the clothes were folded. They were folded! Who folded them? Only one person could have done it.
As I said earlier, John was Jesus' best friend. That is made very clear in John's gospel. He actually calls himself, "the disciple whom Jesus loved!" Many times! John traveled with Jesus for three years. As a guy who's been on tour, I can tell you that when you travel with someone for an extended period, you learn intimate details about their life. Things that only those who live with them know. Stuff like how you fold your clothes when you get up in the morning.
John says in verse 8 that when he saw how the grave clothes were folded, he believed. To me, that's a huge tell.
I believe that when Jesus rose, the first thing he did was fold his grave clothes the way he always had folded his own clothes. He did it so that his best friend, John, would see the clothes folded the way only Jesus would have done it. He did it so John would believe.
But I believe he also did it for his mother, Mary. It would have been Mary who taught Jesus to fold his bed clothes neatly every morning when he got up. Mary was one of the first to see the place where Jesus was laid. She saw the grave clothes folded the way she had taught her son to do. She must have known he was alive the moment she saw that.
Of course, I know this is all just speculation. But you can’t prove me wrong! And I know about the other theories about this, that it was a sign of his second coming, or that it was a carpenter thing. Excuse me if I think my theory's better. It's more personal. It's something Jesus did for his most loved ones, not some grander theological point. In my opinion, anyway.
When this revelation, and I believe that's what it was, came to me that Sunday, of course, I wanted to share it with the class. For some stupid reason, as an illustration, I thought it would be a good idea to give a couple of my wife's habits as examples of things I'd look for if I came home from an out-of-town gig and wanted to find evidence that she'd been there. I got as far as the half empty pop can on the nightstand and the makeup mirror with the light still on, and she shut me up quick. Afterwards, she told me she'd start telling everyone my habits if I did it again. I never did it again, until now. But I got her permission, and she hasn't drunk pop or used a makeup mirror for many years.
After his followers found the tomb empty, what did Jesus do for the rest of that day? What did he do for the next 40 days until he ascended into Heaven? Did he appear to the Temple leadership to prove he was the Messiah? Did he appear to Pilate, to show what a mistake Pilate had made? No. He only appeared to his friends and family. His inner circle. His crowd on the road.
He walked for miles on the road to Emmaus with two of his disciples, and broke bread with them in their home. He appeared to the rest of his disciples later that day, and ate some fish with them. Sometime later, when they were fishing, Jesus' disciples came ashore and found Jesus grilling fish on the beach for them. Can't you smell it now? What Jesus wanted right before his suffering was dinner with friends. And that's what he wanted when his ordeal was over, and he had won.
Before Jesus was crucified, his friends all deserted him. But they were the first ones he sought out after he rose. He paid special attention to restoring Peter after Peter denied knowing him three times. How much work are we willing to do to restore broken relationships? It was Jesus' first priority after he conquered death. It should be our first priority too.
After this, Jesus' followers knew no fear. Probably the best evidence that Jesus is risen, and there are volumes of it, is the simple fact that his friends would not recant their testimony about it, even though most of them were imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for preaching the resurrection of Jesus. People will not die for something that they know is a lie. Jesus had questionable friends during his life, but after he rose, they continued his mission out of sheer love for him.
You're probably having brunch rather than dinner today. Ham may be on the menu. By the way, how did ham become the traditional meat for Easter? It's always seemed to me like a bunch of Gentiles celebrating the resurrection of Christ by eating the meat that's most offensive to Jews. Just my two cents.
But whatever is on the menu today, I hope you're with friends, family, and loved ones. I hope you're with your inner circle. We will be with some of ours.
I suppose I don't need to tell you how different this Holy Week has been for me. It's been transformative. I've identified with Jesus' suffering more than I ever have before, and now I celebrate his victory over death with greater enthusiasm than I ever have before. His victory is my victory. It's also yours. He did this for all of us.